Explored through a range of scientific research, Manuka Honey as a topical wound aid has experienced a resurgence in recent years.
In this 2018 study, researchers discuss how Manuka Honey on wounds may be helpful:
“Manuka honey has been shown to be especially useful against antibiotic-resistant bacteria [12,36]. The many functions of Manuka Honey thus not only clear wound debris, maintain hydration, control inflammation, and stimulate healing, but also sterilize the wound.”
In this article, we will explore some of the common beliefs out there about Manuka Honey and wounds, the research that has been conducted to investigate them and how it has been used in practice.
We will explore:
- A brief history of Manuka Honey for wounds
- Why do people use Manuka Honey to heal wounds?
- Plus, what vets have found using it on animals.
- How are people using Manuka Honey on wounds?
- Our top Manuka Honey picks.
A Brief History of Manuka Honey for Wounds
Does Manuka Honey heal wounds?
Historians have found that honey was used as a remedy by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans, with plenty of reference to it in sacred texts. Use of honey can also be found in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.
The native Māori people of New Zealand have referred to Manuka as taonga or ‘treasure’, and found a vast range of uses for it including tools, artefacts, food, medicine and even to make beer! Gum and leaves from the plant were used to produce aids for fevers, stomach and urinary problems, to make moisturisers and burn ointments, along with a number of other therapeutic uses.
With such a far-reaching global (and historical) footprint, it’s easy to see how honey has such a wholesome, healing reputation. But is there any science in the story? With the development of modern medicine and research, has anything been found to suggest that Manuka Honey really is as full of promise as the history books suggest?
Why Do People Use Manuka Honey to Heal Wounds?
In 2007, the US FDA approved Manuka Honey as a possible wound treatment. Let’s take a deeper look at why, and the Manuka Honey wound healing research we have available.
As we discuss in our blog about Manuka Honey for scars, our bodies are usually good at healing themselves naturally. That being said, we can always give them a helping hand at achieving optimum conditions to heal safely.
Our skin goes through a few phases when healing:
- Inflammation to clot blood and clear damaged tissue.
- Increased vascularity to feed the affected area with moisture and nutrients.
- Increased fibroblast and collagen production to rebuild cells.
- Maturation of this collagen to strengthen bonds.
It has been suggested in research like that below, that honey may aid in each of these stages.
“Honey has been reported to have an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria, some species of fungi and viruses. Antioxidant capacity of honey is important in many disease conditions and is due to a wide range of compounds including phenolics, peptides, organic acids, enzymes, and Maillard reaction products.” - Source.
Hydrogen peroxide appears to be present in most honeys and is believed by some to give them an antibiotic quality. Where Manuka Honey may be special however, is due to its high levels of another compound: methylglyoxal (MG).
The UMF grading system, used to regulate genuine Manuka Honey, looks for the following components to indicate authenticity:
“[that] required methylglyoxal (MGO) levels are present - linked to antibacterial properties [and the] minimum required level of Leptosperin... is present - linked to anti-inflammatory properties… The amount of Leptosperin increases as the UMF grading level increases”.
A literature review published in the medical journal Wounds Research found the following benefits of honey in healing wounds:
“The physical properties of honey... expedite the healing process: its acidity increases the release of oxygen from haemoglobin thereby making the wound environment less favorable for the activity of destructive proteases, and the high osmolarity of honey draws fluid out of the wound bed to create an outflow of lymph as occurs with negative pressure wound therapy.”
This same review differentiates between normal honey and Manuka Honey, based on antibacterial activity:
“...there is much variation in potency between different honeys. There are 2 types of antibacterial activity. In most honeys the activity is due to hydrogen peroxide, but much of this is inactivated by the enzyme catalase that is present in blood, serum, and wound tissues. In Manuka Honey, the activity is due to methylglyoxal which is not inactivated. The Manuka Honey used in wound-care products can withstand dilution with substantial amounts of wound exudate and still maintain enough activity to inhibit the growth of bacteria.”
With its historical reputation coupled with more modern scientific research, it’s easy to see why people may choose to try Manuka Honey on wounds.
Vets using Manuka Honey for animal wounds
Vets have also been trying Manuka Honey for animals with positive results:
“Having been used in patients for many years honey has performed as well if not better than some of the most well loved and respected antibiotics and antimicrobials when used in wounds.
Combining the anti-inflammatory and debridement properties, the more recent medical grade high Unique Manuka Factor Manuka products provide a safe and extended antimicrobial effect potent enough to challenge the most common wound pathogens including the more recent resistant species.”
In this article, UK Vet details the various ways that vets apply the honey based on the wound type, from direct application packed with a dressing to using syringes and dilutions.
Sydney University equine surgical specialist Andrew Dart had similar conclusions after trying Manuka Honey on significant horse wounds:
“I have been doing wound-healing studies for many years and if you look across the board there are very few, if any, compounds that have a consistent repeatable effect. The wound treated daily with UMF 20 honey showed a nice pink, even and healthy bed of granulation of tissue, whereas our control had a rough, unhealthy bed of granulation tissue with a necrotic centre with poor blood supply.”
Shona Blair, a microbiologist at the University of Technology, Sydney, warns consumers of the significance of grading:
“There's a huge difference if the labelling is accurate – UMF 20 honey is four times more powerful and active against golden staph than UMF 5 honey [for example].”
How People are Using Manuka Honey for Healing Wounds
In this study by Dr. Peter Molan at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, recommendations are listed based on scientific evidence to achieve optimal results when using Manuka Honey on wounds:
- Use it as early in the healing process as possible: “honey is most effective before a wound has been allowed to become deeply infected.”
- Use specific types of honey: “the higher the potency of the [antibacterial properties of the] honey on the surface, the further down into the tissues will be the minimum effective level of the antibacterial substances… Manuka Honey has a unique, unidentified, antibacterial component in addition to the enzymatically generated hydrogen peroxide that is common to all honeys.”
- Use dressings which will hold enough honey on the wound to generate results and prevent leaking: “It is important to hold sufficient honey in place on a wound to get a good therapeutic effect, providing a "reservoir" of sufficient quantity such that its antibacterial and other bioactive components are not excessively diluted by exudate and not substantially depleted by diffusion into the wound tissues.”
- Ensure that the honey is in full contact with the affected area: “Contact between the wound bed and the honey is essential for the antibacterial and other bioactive components of the honey to be able to diffuse into the wound tissues.”
- Make sure you also cover areas surrounding the wounds: “This allows diffusion through the skin of the antibacterial components to clear infection in periwound tissue, and of the anti-inflammatory components to reduce inflammation and edema.”
- Change the dressing regularly: “...honey is a water soluble material that readily takes up wound fluid and thus becomes diluted… the dressings need to be changed at least weekly to maintain a "reservoir" of bioactive components as these diffuse away into the wound tissues and deplete the content in the honey on the surface.”
See the study for greater detail on each of these, plus other more specific recommendations.
Manuka Honey and Wound Care with New Zealand Honey Co.
Based on the findings above, when using honey for wound care, you want the highest potency of antibacterial and antioxidant activity available.
With plenty of imposters on the market, Manuka Honey has a unique grading system. Authentic Manuka Honey should show two grades: its UMF™ and MGO (or MG) levels.
(Bear in mind that MGO is not regulated in the same way as UMF™, so if a honey is missing the latter, it may not have met the same standards).
All of our Manuka Honey is independently tested and is graded both on UMF™ and MGO. So if you want the real deal, check out our top honeys available below and our range here.
Have you tried Manuka Honey in wound healing? If so, we’d love to know about your experience. Please get in touch today.